The Importance of Access to Public Lands

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By Daniela Cervantes

The first time I went backpacking, I was a senior in high school. The Youth in Wilderness program took us to Arroyo Seco, which is located in the Ventana Wilderness of Central California between Eastern Big Sur and the Salinas Valley. The first night we camped, after dinner, I was walking to my tent guided by a dim flashlight. As I walked, I stopped myself to ask, “What’s the hurry?”

I stood in the cold, dark field and made one of the best decisions of my life: I remembered to look up at the sky. It was the richest, brightest, most intense night sky I had ever seen. The lack of light pollution and our high elevation made me feel like I could almost touch the dark blue velvet above. This image is forever engraved in my mind. After admiring the sky, I walked back to my tent protected by moonlight.

This experience inspired me to become a wilderness instructor. Now, four years after my first backpacking trip, I bring young people on wilderness trips in the Los Padres National Forest—many of whom, like me, are exploring the outdoors for the first time. Having access to beautiful trails, rivers, mountains, and fresh air so close to home is important for young people in particular. Yet, the future of the Los Padres continues to be threatened by logging of old-growth trees and climate change. That’s why I’m also an advocate for our public lands. 

Our leaders must continue to prioritize protections for our public lands and rivers so that more young people can have life-changing experiences in the outdoors, and become environmental stewards and leaders in their own communities. Fortunately, there are several, complementary legislative efforts underway in Washington, D.C. to protect public lands and rivers on the Central Coast and statewide. 

Representatives Salud Carbajal, Judy Chu, Jared Huffman, and Adam Schiff and Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein have continued to champion conservation efforts. Collectively, their bills will protect and increase access to more than 1 million acres of public lands and well over 500 miles of rivers in California, including in the Los Padres. This legislation has already passed the U.S. House, and I hope that Congress will carry it over the finish line this year.

It’s no secret that spending time outdoors offers incredible benefits, including stress reduction and improved mental health. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to easily access the benefits of nature. That’s why we must increase protections to our public lands and rivers, and reduce barriers to access for communities of color in California. All young people deserve the chance to view the Pacific Ocean from thousands of feet above, to spot a rare California Condor flying above the treetops, or to gaze at a night sky free of light pollution—no matter where we live. 

For me personally, accessing the outdoors helped me become more resilient. Many of our students (myself included) come to our program with little to no comfort in the outdoors. This is why we teach mindfulness to our students through solo hikes and nature activities, which help mitigate stress and fear that they may associate with unfamiliar experiences like camping or hiking. Students can then use these skills to navigate hardships at home, in school, or at work. These lessons follow us as we become adults, too. 

I am fortunate to be able to take our students to beautiful places on the Central Coast, where we learn about local wildlife, plants, and the importance of protecting our public lands. By teaching environmental stewardship, we form personal connections to our Central Coast public lands and can become advocates for these special places.

Fostering the next generation of environmental leaders is more important now than ever before. The Los Padres’ public lands and rivers are increasingly at-risk from logging. Recently, the U.S. Forest Service proposed a controversial project that would allow logging of centuries-old trees in two proposed additions to the Sespe Wilderness. 

I urge California’s Congressional champions to continue advocating for areas within the Los Padres, and for other public lands and rivers throughout our state, to get the protections they deserve this year. Let’s provide more opportunities for young people to spend time outdoors. Every young person in California should be able to experience nature so that we’re inspired to protect it into the future. 

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Daniela Cervantes is a Youth in Wilderness Instructor with Ventana Wilderness Alliance. She grew up on the Central Coast and is currently a student at UC Berkeley.


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11 Comments

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Sail380 Oct 12, 2020 03:00 PM
The Importance of Access to Public Lands

Unfortunately the OP is championing AB3030. Seems she lifted some her text from the bill.
The bills effect would actually close off 30% of California's land and waters to public use.
Right out of the agenda 21 and agenda 30 playbook.

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB3030

PitMix Oct 12, 2020 09:05 AM
The Importance of Access to Public Lands

The things that restrict access to forests by people of color have to do with economic issues, which also leads to a lack of a tradition of going to experience nature in those communities. I know people that had never been to our forests before while growing up in East LA until an ecology teacher organized a week long tour with camping for them - called the Mother Lode tour. So while there is no law that prevents their access, our society seems to have been effectively organized to do this.

Sail380 Oct 12, 2020 12:32 PM
The Importance of Access to Public Lands

Economics issues prevent several groups from enjoying the outdoors. From a United Way presentation, I found it hard to believe how many kids living in Santa Barbara have never been to the beach.

biguglystick Oct 11, 2020 11:47 AM
The Importance of Access to Public Lands

Thank you, Daniela, for this thoughtful article and thank you for becoming a wilderness instructor! Teaching young people to respect nature and wildlife is more important than ever. We are currently in the midst of a 6th Mass Extinction event, and any and all wilderness teaching is an important thing indeed for the youth of our country. Thank you.

a-1602305534 Oct 09, 2020 09:52 PM
The Importance of Access to Public Lands

Both the SB Botanic Garden and the SB Museum of Natural History have very engaging natural areas suitable for young people, along with school visits and youth programs. There is access to "natural areas" close to home - both activities have strong volunteer programs. They deserve our thanks and our support. Parks and Rec programs for youth is another outdoor activity taxpayers already support.

Ahchooo Oct 09, 2020 08:54 PM
The Importance of Access to Public Lands

I’m not sure what the author means, but some of the barriers could be poverty, or parents who have never been exposed to nature and therefore don’t know to expose their own children, or parents who work so much they are unable to drive to nature areas. I’m not clear on the connection she’s trying make, but more parks and wilderness means more places to go. Also, as our population increases we will need more protected lands where people can get away from crowds.

Baddawg Oct 09, 2020 08:31 PM
The Importance of Access to Public Lands

The title does not match the article. She is concerned about logging and climate change which has nothing to do with access. Like SAIL380 I am also concerned about the locked gates that limit forest access to people who may not be able to hike in to access campsites etc. I’m also curious about the barriers that restrict access to communities of color. Last time I went to the forest I don’t recall seeing any whites only signs.

goletatim Oct 09, 2020 02:24 PM
The Importance of Access to Public Lands

Plenty of land is already protected and has fine access. Daniela, you were able to experience the great outdoors at one of these protected areas, you were able to get there to enjoy it, glad you did.
You wrote:
'not everyone is able to easily access the benefits of nature. That’s why we must increase protections to our public lands and rivers, and reduce barriers to access for communities of color in California. All young people deserve the chance to view the Pacific Ocean from thousands of feet above, to spot a rare California Condor flying above the treetops, or to gaze at a night sky free of light pollution—no matter where we live.'
There are plenty of places for all to to enjoy and I don't think that any of these places restrict access to 'communities of color'. What barriers are you wanting to reduce? Why increase protection and from what, us the users?

dukemunson Oct 11, 2020 03:59 PM
The Importance of Access to Public Lands

It makes your blood boil that private land was turned into a preserve for all to enjoy under the condition of a handful of houses being built? Do you have any concept of reality as That makes zero sense! Because of These few houses, people have access to wild land. The area you call a “treasure” is literally able to be enjoyed by all because of the houses.

biguglystick Oct 11, 2020 11:45 AM
The Importance of Access to Public Lands

GOLETATIM, While I agree with you that I don't think any places put in place barriers to POC (National parks and wilderness areas are open to all), I have to say that Yes, we DO need more protections for our wild places and wild lands, and yes we DO need to fight to preserve more of it. There is an effort right now, to save the San Marcos Foothills, and I encourage every one of you to go check it out and donate. That area is a TREASURE, and the very last thing Santa Barbara county needs is more luxury mansions for the 1%! As a 4th generation Californian and conservationist, it makes my blood boil, we MUST save this land for posterity.
Perhaps the barriers to POC that she is referring to is the lack of programs to entice non-white youth to enjoy nature and become more aware of it.

Sail380 Oct 09, 2020 11:41 AM
The Importance of Access to Public Lands

Thank you for helping others to enjoy the outdoors. Its been 45 years since my first backpacking trip that included climbing Mt Whitney. I can relate to your experience and took my sons ScoutTroop on some great trips I believe in public land and access to them. Unfortunately I don't believe the current trend is to allow access to land in the name of preservation. Lots more locked gates and restricted access to public land these days.

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